REVIEW: Moving and visually stunning, ‘Soaring Wings: Journey of the Crested Ibis’ took flight in Boston

The richest beauty comes from a striking, beloved bird as The Boch Center Shubert Theatre debuted the Shanghai Dance Theatre’s ethereal and historical tale, Soaring Wings:  Journey of the Crested Ibis in Boston from January 11 and 12.   The show is part of China Arts and Entertainment Group’s Image China and has been touring all over the world since 2014.  A few of Image China’s featured past performances include The Legend of Mulan, Confucius Dragon Boat Racing, and the Peking Opera.  Click here for more information about Boch Center’s upcoming events.

Soaring Wings, January 11-12, 2018 at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre (11)

Crested Ibis Photo courtesy of China Arts and Entertainment Group’s Image China

With elements similar to Tchaikovsky’s Swan LakeSoaring Wings is a majestic celebration of nature’s harmony with man and how delicate that relationship can be.  From harp-infused, mystical rhythms and horn-infused intensity composed by Guo Sida to the distinct, elegant choreography by Tong Ruirui, Soaring Wings delivers a stunning portrait of love, camaraderie, and what comes of neglect in a tree-lined utopia.

Soaring Wings, January 11-12, 2018 at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre (13)

Courtesy of China Arts and Entertainment Group’s Image China

Written by Luo Huaizhen, directed by Ton Ruirui, and starring Zhu Jiejing and Wang Jiajun, Soaring Wings is part love story, part environmental awareness, and part historical account of the Crested Ibis, China’s sacred bird of good fortune, from its first appearance centuries ago to what has become of them today.  The simple and beautiful setting under a low hanging, multi-branched tree entangled with a mist covered lake is a vision to behold and prefaces the grace and charm of these spectacular birds as a group of explorers look on.  Wearing intricately detailed, lacy costumes accented by a feather plume and dainty red slippers, the dancers move in simultaneous elegance.   They joyfully chirp, prance, float, twinkle, and expressively cock their head while outstretching their wide, magnificent wings under streaming, multi-colored lights.

Soaring Wings, January 11-12, 2018 at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre (7)

The ‘flock’ of Crested Ibis Photo courtesy of China Arts and Entertainment’s Image China

Zhu Jijng and Wang Jiajun possess an instant, sweet fascination with each other as man and bird.  Their intimate dance and the radiant joy they exude from each other is a captivating centerpiece of the performance.  Divided into three parts, the stark contrast between the warmth and jarring indifference that develops in its characters and the symbolic relevance of a floating, single feather drives this altruistic tale.  As visually stunning as its universal message, Soaring Wings: Journey of the Crested Ibis embodies the power of kindness and the importance of harmony in an ever changing world.

Click here for more information about China Arts and Entertainment Group’s Image China and here for more about Boch Center’s upcoming events.

 

REVIEW: Reagle Music Theatre’s 35th anniversary of ‘ChristmasTime’ is most wonderful

Brimming with holiday cheer while celebrating two milestone anniversaries, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston is offering a season more spectacular than ever before.  Not only is Reagle celebrating its 50th anniversary, their beloved annual holiday music revue, ChristmasTime is marking 35 magnificent years.  These special ChristmasTime anniversary performances are dedicated to Reagle’s Christmas Angel, Natalie L. Durkin.  ChristmasTime continues through Sunday, December 10.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Christmas Time Photo 4

Raggedy Ann Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Just walking into Robinson Theatre before the performance, attendees are greeted by iconic holiday characters and Victorian carolers as the Robinson halls are decked out onstage and off with brightly lit snowflakes, richly designed Christmas trees, gold embossed wreaths, and the stage festively framed with wooden embroidered angels.  Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston annually features the memorable performances that transformed ChristmasTime into a holiday tradition as well as additional scenes that keep the show fresh each year.

Christmas Time Photo 2

ChristmasTime stage Courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

From touching, candlelit hymns to joyous rollicking Christmas carols for the entire family including a sing-along, Reagle Music Theatre’s production of ChristmasTime never loses steam even in its quietest of moments.  During the holiday season, spend the afternoon witnessing a unique musical revue seeped in a variety of iconic Christmas scenes expertly narrated with the warm, inviting vocals of R. Glen Mitchell and a live orchestra led by Jeffrey P Leonard and Paul S. Katz.  Featuring an enormous, impressive cast of all ages with some performances offered with special permission from Radio City Music Hall, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston travels to distant lands and different time periods from the North Pole to New York City in landscapes painted with picturesque flair by Robert Moody of Santa’s Workshop, Rockefeller Center, Boston’s duck statues, a candlelit church with sunburst stained glass windows, and the stunning, sprawling city of Jerusalem.

Christmas Time Photo 7 - Fred Van Ness Soloist

Renowned Tenor Fred C. VanNess Jr in The Living Nativity

The afternoon also featured an array of special, surprise guests with the returning, suburb talent of renowned tenor, Fred C. VanNess Jr and Mara Bonde’s gorgeous vocals.  Famous scenes of the season include a lively version of The Nutcracker, appearances from Reagle’s Rockettes, a humorous scene from Parade of the Wooden Soldiers, and the suburb The Living Nativity highlighted by popular carols like Little Saint Nick, Jingle Bells, Twelve Days of Christmas, and Christmas medleys capture the Christmas spirit in an unforgettable way.  Scenes are also peppered in performances from toys to trees coming to life dancing to rock, gospel, and much more.  ChristmasTime, through its delightful, stunning vignettes of the season, exhibits a captivating depiction of the meaning of Christmas.

As part of Reagle’s 50th anniversary celebration, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston is holding a limited raffle to win a new Honda Civic.  Click here for further details.

This annual, interactive celebration, which is appropriate for all ages, has a strong following so purchase tickets now.  Each show is held at Reagle Music Theatre, 617 Lexington Street in Waltham, Massachusetts through December 10.  Call 781-891-5600 or Click here for tickets and for more information and upcoming events in 2018 such as Night Fever:  An Evening With the Bee Gees and A Little Bit of Ireland. Tickets are also available at the theatre box office.

 

 

Americana Theatre Company’s David Friday and Nick Mitchell talk ‘It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play’

Over 70 years ago, despair, hardship, hope, and generosity encompassed a holiday tale that quickly became a film classic.  Based on Philip Van Doren Stern’s short story, The Greatest Gift, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life became an annual family tradition for generations and The Americana Theatre Company is bringing back this popular, unique retelling of this beloved story suited to the film’s time period.  With a small cast inhabiting over 40 roles with a Christmas Eve setting, It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play is performed as a 1940s radio play with a cast of just five actors.  The show runs from Wednesday, December 6 through Saturday, December 16 at Plymouth Center for the Arts in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

American Theatre Company cast 2017

A few cast member from Americana Theatre Company’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play’ through December 16 Photo courtesy of Americana Theatre Company

Managing Director of the Americana Theatre Company David Friday and Director Nick Mitchell discuss the inspirational transformation of It’s a Wonderful Life into an interactive, onstage, and in-studio live radio show.

Sleepless Critic:  What I like so much about It’s a Wonderful Life:  A Live Radio Play is the nostalgic 1940s setting fits right in line with the time period of the film.  How did this idea come about?

Nick Mitchell:  Radio plays have taken off and a lot of companies are doing live, mock radio plays by bringing in the effects and the different voices from the actors.  It was only a matter of time before authors got a hold of pieces like It’s a Wonderful Life.  Two different versions of the script are available for It’s a Wonderful Life that is a formatted radio play.  The one we’re using is by Joe Landry who condensed it into anywhere from 40 actors, but five are recommended and five is what we are going with.

SC:  Those five actors will play 40 roles as I understand.

NM:  Yes, indeed.  George Bailey is played by Jesse Sullivan, Emily Turner Marsland as Mary. They play just those roles, but Josh Nicholson, David Friday, and Erin Friday, the Director of Education for Americana Theatre, play everybody else.

SC:  I understand your voices will be enhanced with microphones, sound effects, and there will also be an authentic ‘Applause’ sign.

NM:  The ‘Applause’ sign is funny.  David made this fully working sign.  I kept thinking during the rehearsal process whether it is bright enough for the audience to see it.  However, audiences have responded to it the minute that sign lit up.  It was fun to watch.

It's a Wonderful Life A Live Radio Play

Cast of It’s a Wonderful Life In Studio Photo courtesy of Americana Theatre Company

SC:  It also makes it more interactive for the audience too.

DF:  The opening speech of the show explains to the audience that the broadcast will be in a radio studio.  Other performances of this show have to be done on a large stage and broadcast on the radio to a different venue.  In the opening speech, the announcer says that people at home are going to be able to hear you so laugh, applaud, cry, and it will all be part of the show.  It really tries to get everybody involved including our stage manager.  He can be seen in the production booth window.  We added that nice little twist.

SC:  Have there been any surprises during this show’s run such as unexpected reactions to certain scenes?

DF:  It’s one of my favorite movies of all time.  I see it every year just like most people do and get a little misty when I watch it.  At the end of one evening’s performance, quite a few audience members were crying or very close to it.  It is good for us.  It just tells us we’ve been able to capture the spirit of the original film.

It’s nice and I’ve actually seen a couple of online Facebook comments that people can’t wait to go home and watch it.  They enjoyed the show and want to watch it because the show recaptured something in a way that they have never seen it and want to go back and relate it to what they know.  People even thinking that way is a large victory for us.

SC:  What is the best reason one should come see the production?

NM:  In this digital age, we get entertainment where and when we want it with a push of a button.  I think at this time of year, a show and format like this reminds us to set aside some time with people that mean something to us and be entertained.  In the process, see how many lives we’ve touched in the meantime.

SC:  It’s a live show so anything can happen.

NM:  It will, believe me.

It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play continues through Saturday, December 16 at Plymouth Center for the Arts, 11 North Street in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Reserve tickets by clicking here or call 1-508-591-0282. Tickets will also be available at the door.  Follow the Americana Theatre Company of Facebook for more information about this amazing theatre company and future productions.

 

REVIEW: Festive and moving, Massasoit’s production of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is time well spent

Soft, twinkling lights and vintage multi-colored bulbs frame the Buckley Performing Arts Center stage as beloved Christmas carols ring in the holiday cheer in anticipation of a beloved tale.  That familiar sign, “You are Now in Bedford Falls” rings true as Massasoit Theatre Company opened a four show, two weekend run of It’s A Wonderful Life continuing through Sunday, December 3 at Buckley Performing Arts Center, part of Massasoit Community College in Brockton, Massachusetts.  Craig O’Connor, who acts as part narrator and full-time aspiring angel, warmly recalls a beautiful and haunting tale of the value of a life well spent.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

It's a Wonderful Life Bedford Falls

Curtis J. Bellafiore as George and Elizabeth Lovley as Mary Hatch and the cast Photo courtesy of Massasoit Theatre Company

Massasoit has an affinity for festive onstage caroling during annual holiday productions and We Wish You a Merry Christmas is just one of an array of classic tunes to set the mood.  The rolling stage, designed impressively by Nathan Fogg DeSisto, hearkens not only to its vintage 1920s to 40s setting, but visually captures some of the tale’s most iconic moments from the cold, snow covered bridge to a wooden bench frequently shown in Bedford Falls, a setting inspired by Seneca Falls, New York.  Jennifer Spagone’s distinct costume design make the cast looked sharp as women wore brightly colored dresses from polka dots to paisley in signature hairstyles of the period and the men in a variety of suits, ties, and winter coats faithful to the season.

It's a wonderful life Baileys

Patricia Straight-McGrath as Mother Bailey and Curtis J. Bellafiore as George Photo courtesy of Massasoit Theatre Company

Told partly in vignettes and flashbacks, It’s a Wonderful Life focuses on a morbidly downtrodden George Bailey, portrayed with a unique charisma by Curtis J. Bellafiore, who reaches a pivotal moment in his life that makes him question the value of his existence.  Enter mild-mannered Clarence Odbody, portrayed with warmhearted sincerity by Craig O’Connor, who questions whether he can produce a Christmas miracle.

It's a wonderful life Uncle Billy

Curtis J. Bellafiore as George and Danny Hannafin as Uncle Billy Photo courtesy of Massasoit Theatre Company

Director Tony Ruscio masters the challenging task of capturing the charm of this small town through the cast’s jocular and moving camaraderie.  The children have small roles, but each engages the audience in their own distinct way.  With a winning smile and apprehensive verbal style only mildly reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal, Curtis J. Bellafiore, embodies endearing dreamer George Bailey with a unique charisma.  His instant chemistry with Elizabeth Lovley as jubilant, yet mysterious Mary Hatch is captivating to watch.  Lovley’s real skill as Mary is not just in the scripted word, but in the subtlety of her performance.  Lovley’s quiet serenity perfectly complements Bellafiore’s charming optimism.  Craig O’Connor harnesses such a natural presence as lovable Clarence that it is difficult to imagine the actor himself any other way.

Chris DiOrio, last seen as grouchy but lovable Shrek in Hingham Civic Music Theatre’s fall production of the same name, takes a gloriously dark turn as the infamous Mr. Potter.   As he makes his demands from a sitting position, his presence casts a constant shadow, his deep, gravelly, and well spoken demeanor brimming with unflinching practicality.  His calculating exchanges with each cast member are riveting to say the least.

It's a wonderful life Potter

Chris DiOrio as Mr. Potter, Jim Gross, and Margaret O’Brien as Bank Examiner Photo courtesy of Massasoit Theatre Company

Massasoit Theatre Company’s festive and moving It’s A Wonderful Life continues through Sunday, December 3 at Buckley Performing Arts Center, One Massasoit Boulevard in Brockton, Massachusetts.  Call 508-427-1234 or click here for tickets and further details.  Follow Massasoit Theatre Company on Facebook for upcoming events and more.

After a night out, MET Bar and Grill presents the return of ‘Boston Hot Chocolate Experience’

Sweeten the end of a concert or a night out at the theatre with rich chocolate.  Whether hot or cold, it is an undeniable treat throughout the year.  With the return of ‘Boston Hot Chocolate Experience’ starting Friday, November 25 and continuing through Valentine’s Day 2018 at three MET Bar and Grill locations in Massachusetts, chocolate has never tasted better.  Click here for more information.

Exclusively at MET Back Bay, customers can indulge in an interactive experience with Tableside Smores. They can toast extra-large marshmallows at their own table and add graham crackers, milk, white, or dark chocolate.  Hot chocolate options include Classic Hot Chocolate featuring vanilla chocolate, whipped cream, and mini-roasted marshmallows, Caramel Sea Salt with whipped cream and caramel drizzle, Espresso with Almond Biscotti, and White Chocolate Peppermint Hot Chocolate, featuring white chocolate, crushed peppermint stick, vanilla cream, and a candy cane.  Each treat can be enhanced with Peppermint Liquor, Caramel Vodka, Bailey’s, and more.

These holiday treats are presented as ‘A Flight of Four’ experience featuring four miniature glasses or attendees can order one flavor as ‘One Big One’ presentation.  Visit MET Back Bay in Boston and MET Bar and Grill in Dedham and Natick, Massachusetts.  MET offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as Saturday and Sunday Brunch. They also are available for private events and gift cards are available online for the perfect gift.

NYC actress, writer, and filmmaker Stephanie Iscovitz talks film career and managing annual ‘New York New Works Theatre Festival’ in October

NYC actress, writer, filmmaker, and casting assistant Stephanie Iscovitz is no stranger to a competitive festival, having been on the winning end and a participant.  She is taking her expertise to a whole new level running the upcoming New York New Works Theatre Festival, kicking off Tuesday, October 3 and continuing through Saturday, Oct. 21 at New York City’s Duke Theatre with the final gala on Monday, Nov. 6 at Theatre 80.

With a wide spectrum of diverse, carefully chosen theatre productions from hundreds of submissions and created by Gene Fisch, Jr., the New York New Works Theatre Festival is a give back project to help the arts community.  It’s an exciting, annual event as award-winning representatives from Broadway and beyond judge the next generation’s promising talent.  Click here for the full theatre schedule, tickets, and here for panelist information.

Stephanie Iscovitz delves into her journey as a film festival participant, what to expect at the New York New Works Theatre Festival, and the message she hopes to convey through her work.  Click here for more on Stephanie and her upcoming projects.

Sleepless Critic:  Starting October 3, you are leading the management team at the New York New Works Theatre Festival.

Stephanie Iscovitz:  Yes, I’m managing the New York New Works Theater Showcase and am very passionate about including as many powerful, female and diverse voices as possible.

 The New York New Works Theatre Showcase is a theatre competition that provides aspiring writers the opportunity to present their work in a top tier theatre while being mentored by a group of Broadway, television producers, and industry leaders. The distinguished panelists are Broadway producers, Tony Award-winners, Emmy Award-winners, or industry executives that volunteer their time to help aspiring writers.  Performances take place in the 199-seat Duke Theatre on 42nd and Broadway from Tuesday, October 3 through Saturday, October 21 with the final gala on Monday, November 6.

I’m eager to take all the wonderful parts of my film festival experience while bringing some great new ideas to the New York New Works Theatre Showcase. As an actor and writer, I know what kind of opportunities I would benefit from and am humbled and excited to provide that for the participants in this year’s showcase.

SC:  You bring a broad range of experience to the New York New Works Theatre Festival, including your training at the T. Schreiber Studio and Theatre, a studio that features Edward Norton, Peter Sarsgaard, and Maria Bello, just a few of their renowned alumni.  What was that experience like for you?

 SI:  With only eleven students in the conservatory, it was an extraordinary, life-changing experience.   When you’re part of an intense, raw, and emotionally-challenging program like that, the people you experience it with become your family.  I still study there as part of their on-going scene study program continually challenged with roles I’m afraid to do.  I was most recently working on a character affected with brain damage.

T. Shreiber Studio

T. Schreiber Studio and Theatre graduate Stephanie Iscovitz T. Schreiber Photo Credit: T. Schreiber Studio & Theatre

SC:  What do you think is the most important thing that T. Schreiber has taught you as an actress, filmmaker, writer, and producer?

SI:  Terry Schreiber notoriously says that you must give yourself the permission to let yourself happen, which has become my mantra. The first couple of short films I made as an actor, writer, and producer had potential, but they weren’t great.  However, I wouldn’t be where I am today or learned as much as I did had I not made those short films, which I consider beautiful stepping stones.  Give yourself permission to fall flat on your face and be patient with yourself on this creative journey because in this business, it’s more about the journey than the destination.

SC:  Having attended a number of festivals in your career, you have firsthand experience participating in what can be incredibly competitive festivals.  What was your first film festival you attended?

SI:  The first film festival I got into was for my first film, Ladies Night, presented at a great festival I return to annually, the 2014 Big Apple Film Festival.  It’s a comedy held in a karaoke bar and I’ve learned a lot after that first film, like avoid writing a film where music rights are imperative. To my surprise, it was very well received and screened alongside Jerry Stiller in the festival program.  I had no idea what I was doing at the festival and was so nervous during the Q&A I could feel my shortness of breath while I was speaking.  It’s a comforting thought that no one really knows what they’re doing and just trying to do the best they can with what they’ve got.

Big Apple Film Festival with Jerry Stiller

2014 Big Apple Film Festival – Stephanie won for her first film, which screened along Jerry Stiller. It was a comedy called ‘Ladies Night’ Photo Credit: Stephanie Iscovitz

SC:  Recently, you went to Long Beach Island for a film festival not long ago.  What is it like for you to attend a festival where your production is featured?

SILighthouse International was the best film festival I’ve attended. Each year, the festival champions a selection of new, often unrecognized films from the US and around the world to compete in the festival and for audience award categories, which screen alongside award-winning spotlight films from Sundance, Cannes, SXSW, Toronto and Tribeca. I saw pre-released films and met other NYC filmmakers, sparking collaboration for future projects.

After the screenings, there were Q&A’s with the filmmakers.  We had our world premiere of Bruce Loves You where the shorts programmer, Chip Parham, ran a stellar screening. It was wonderful to have a captive audience interested in knowing more about our film making process and about of course, Bruce the ghost.

'Bruce Loves You' cast at Lighthouse International film fest

‘Bruce Loves You’ team at the 2017 Lighthouse International Film Festival Photo courtesy of Darin Quan

SC:  As you attend these festivals, do you feel like you get better at the process or is every festival different?  What was it like to win at the festival?

SI:  Every festival is different. We’ve started to call it ‘Game of Festivals’ where you win or die and 99% of the time you die. It’s all so subjective and such a gamble, depending upon who’s watching your submission if your submission was actually watched, at what time of day, and what the viewer’s own personal values and tastes are.  When you are actually accepted out of thousands of submissions, it feels like a real lottery win.

I met one of my closest friends and collaborators at a film festival where our film, Catslaughter had been rejected. After speaking with her, it turned out we had the same exact film except hers was about a sweater and ours was about a cat. She had submitted early and was already accepted when we submitted late.  Timing is everything. A rejection doesn’t necessarily mean your film was bad.  There are a number of factors involved and in this case, they had already programmed a similar film. However, it turned out to be a huge blessing because she and I clicked creatively and have gone on to work together on multiple projects.

Stephanie Iscovitz with Cinder Chou

Filmmaker Cinder Chou at 2016 Big Apple Film Festival Photo courtesy of Stephanie Iscovitz

SC:  What is the message that you hope to deliver through your work?

SI:  I really want to drive social change through storytelling and that begins with representation on film, particularly through the female lens and experience.  I hope to enlighten while helping audiences feel a little less alone.

Tickets are still available to this year’s New York New Works Theatre Festival.  Click here for more information and tickets.  New York New Works Theatre Festival is also on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Click here for more on Stephanie Iscovitz and her upcoming projects.

Stephanie Iscovitz new role

Stephanie Iscovitz’s new project Photo courtesy of Rutledge Customs

South South Conservatory’s annual, family summer outdoor concert series, ‘Wacky Wednesdays’ returns

South Shore Conservatory, known for offering fun, educational, and interactive classes and entertainment for all ages for the South Shore of Massachusetts and beyond, is proud to enliven Wednesday mornings once again.  Sponsored by The Harold and Avis Goldstein Trust with WATD as media partner, South Shore Conservatory’s Wacky Wednesdays has been delivering award-winning, educational, and interactive family entertainment for their 21st year every Wednesday mornings as part of their outdoor Summer Spotlight series.  Wednesday morning concerts also feature free lemonade and chocolate milk starting at 10 a.m.

Kicking off the season on Wednesday, July 5, singer-songwriter and Music Together teacher Vanessa Trien and the Jumping Monkeys return to the Jane Carr Amphitheater stage.  This family concert series includes humorous, high energy, and catchy family pop band Karen K and the Jitterbugs on July 12, multiple award-winning Roots musician, Alastair Moock and Friends on July 19, and imaginative, energetic, and interactive musical storytelling by Debbie and Friends on July 26.  Click here for a closer look at this enchanting series.

All concerts take place rain or shine at Jane Carr Amphitheater, One Conservatory Drive in Hingham, Massachusetts.  With funding from Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund, the Jane Carr Amphitheater has been updated entirely.  See the South Shore Conservatory’s summer spotlight concert series at affordable prices and no charge for children under three.  Discounted prices for groups are also available.  Click here for tickets and more information or call 1-781-749-7565, ext. 22.